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Belleair OKs zoning for hotel property
Commissioners unanimously pass resolution honoring the late Santo “Sam” Casella
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A proclamation honoring the late Sam Casella is presented to his wife, Xiaoyun Casella by the Mayor and Commissioners of Belleair. From left are Commissioners Kevin Piccarreto, Tom Shelly and Michael Wilkinson, Mayor Gary Katica, Casella and Commissioner Stephen Fowler.
BELLEAIR – The debate over the future of the Belleview Biltmore hotel continued at the town’s commission meeting on March 25.

This time the arguments centered on the establishment of a new zoning option for the hotel property. The proposal is to add what is known as RM-10 zoning, which would provide for a developer to build 10 units per acre with provision for some buildings on the site to be as high as 80 feet.

People wanting to preserve the hotel see the new zoning as an incentive for developers to demolish the hotel and build townhouses as has been planned. Those in favor of the new zoning see it as a way to move forward and put the hotel behind them.

One of those people was Jim White, the president of the RPD Homeowners Association. White said his group passed a resolution supporting the RM-10 proposal along with other proposed changes that would affect the hotel property. White and his group have long complained about the unsightliness of the hotel and the affect it is having on their property values.

Preservationist Rae Claire Johnson wondered why the RM-10 was needed for the property because under the town’s land development criteria anything built on the hotel property would classify as a major development with its own set of rules and regulations.

Resident Tom Dupont spoke out strongly in favor of the RM-10 proposal.

“It is time to stop wasting time, stop dilly-dallying,” he said. “Pass this RM-10. You have vetted this subject long enough now take some action. We need this zoning so the property can be developed.”

Another supporter of the proposed zoning was resident Dan Hartshorne, who began by referring to a lawsuit recently launched by Johnson opposing proposed changes to the rules governing the property.

“The lawsuit is provocatively idiotic,” he said. “We’ve just come through a depression. Nobody has $250 million to fix the hotel; its time has passed. It is time for the town to move forward. The more we involve ourselves in fantasy the less likely we will move forward.”

Resident Karman Hayes felt differently.

“I am on the other wide of the argument; I want to preserve the hotel,” she said. “My request is to stick to your earlier proposal to put this off for sxi months; there are several interested parties out there if we give them time.”

Resident Tom Kurey refuted that suggestion.

“We’ve been waiting for others but they haven’t delivered; it hasn’t happened” he said. “The hotel is not viable. Let’s do the right thing for the town of Belleair.”

Attorney Ed Armstrong, who represents the Ades brothers, owners of the hotel, in land use matters and who is representing the Belleair Country Club in this most recent lawsuit, urged commissioners to keep moving forward.

“The obstructionists want delay, delay, delay. Don’t let this lawsuit discourage you. Send them a message that the town is going to move forward. There will no doubt be other lawsuits. Get used to it and keep moving forward,” he said.

Commissioner Stephen Fowler was the only commissioner to speak out against the RM-10 proposal, reiterating things he has said in earlier debates on the subject.

“I object to the maximum 80 foot height for some of the buildings which could be built on the site,” he said. “It is not the scale or the fabric of Belleair. Eighty feet is as big as an eight-story building. I would suggest a maximum of 58 feet.”

He also wanted to include an average size of any townhouses or condo units built on the site.

“I object to the deletion of the average size requirement. We have a minimum size of 1,500 square feet so there is nothing to stop a developer from building all the units at that size. That would surely devalue the surrounding properties,” he said.

Fowler wanted to add a requirement that the average size of the units be 2,200 or 2,400 square feet.

In the end he lost the fight for those changes when the commission voted 4-1 to support the RM-10 zoning as proposed. The second reading of the ordinance will be at the commission meeting on April 15.

Earlier in the meeting the planned discussion of changing the minimum acreage for the hotel be lowered from 20 acres to 15 was put off. That proposal would allow the hotel owners to sell just over two acres to the neighboring Belleair Country Club, which would use it for a parking lot. Town Attorney David Ottinger suggested they delay that discussion until the next meeting on April 1 to allow for proper notice for the meeting. A number of residents then booed that decision and got up and left the hall.

Former commissioner honored

Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution honoring the late Santo “Sam” Casella. Casella died on Feb. 18.

Casella had a long history of public service in Belleair during his time as a resident of the Community. He served on the Historic Preservation Board and was elected as a town commissioner in the late 90’s.

The resolution, in the form of a proclamation, read: “The town of Belleair, through its commission and for its residents, will sincerely miss the presence of Santo “Sam” Casella as a friend, a neighbor, a resident and acknowledge his memory.”

The proclamation was presented to Casella’s wife, Xiaoyun Casella.

Corrected quote by Thomas DuPont.
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